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NWEI Executive Director, Mike Mercer

NWEI Executive Director, Mike Mercer

Sustainable Business Oregon highlighted NWEI’s 20 years of work with the business community in an article published today. Read below for Andy Giegerich’s reflections on how NWEI has been “bringing businesses back to Earth” since 1993. For the full piece, click here.

A key player in Oregon’s early sustainable business movement is marking its second decade this week.


The Northwest Earth Institute, launched by former Stoel Rives LLP attorney Dick Roy and his wife Jeanne, will host its 20th anniversary party May 16th at Portland’s Left Bank Annex. As part of the celebration, the group is unveiling new strategies, including an updated online platform, that Executive Director Mike Mercer believes will move the group to the next level.


The Roys formed the group to push air quality and solid waste issues. Since then, it has also worked to improve Portland neighborhoods, through the Neighborhood Sense of Place Program, and formed the Sustainable Investment Institute as a way to train investment advisers on green issues.


The new Change for Good effort that’ll launch Thursday aims to “close the gap between the sustainability behavior people want to do and what they actually do,” Mercer said…

“This isn’t a solitary pursuit, it’s a social pursuit,” Mercer said. “We want to make it easy for someone who’s busy to get involved.”…Mercer has led the group since 2006 and participated in its programs since the mid-1990s.


“Twenty years ago, people weren’t having this discussion around sustainability,” he said. “It was a small group of change agents, maybe 1 percent or 2 percent of the population. Over the last 20 years, NWEI reached out to the middle part of the population who realized that change is permanent but didn’t know how to get there just yet.”


The group has increasingly focused on the higher education sector, such as faculty members who are incorporating sustainability tenets in their teaching and projects. About half of the group’s 10,000 members are in the higher education realm.


“Four years ago, it was zero” percent, Mercer said. “That’s in recognition of faculty members and institutions saying, we need to educate students for a different future, not just in renewable energy but in terms of dealing with the planet.”


imagesAs many of you know, NWEI founders Dick and Jeanne Roy went on to found another non-profit based in Portland: The Center for Earth Leadership. NWEI founder Jeanne Roy shared the following invitation for NWEI community members: Please join the Center for Earth Leadership for an evening event celebrating Earth in honor of Earth Day on Friday, April 19th from 7:30-9pm. The event will be held at the First Unitarian Church, SW 12th and Salmon St., Portland. Set aside this special time to celebrate our remarkable planet. Although damaged by excess development, Earth continues to nourish and sustain us.  The program includes instrumental and vocal performances, meditative singing, and poetry.

For details click here.  RSVP to 503-244-0026 or

p070621Last month we featured Betty Shelley, long-time NWEI volunteer and waste reduction expert on our blog. Betty and her husband Jon generate only one can of garbage per year. Yep, per YEAR. Applaudable, and for the rest of us, seemingly impossible, right? I signed up for Betty’s “Less is More: Getting to One Can of Garbage Per Year” class to find out just how she does it, and how I could reduce my family’s garbage.

We’re no strangers to the 3 R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle — but are hard-pressed to keep our family’s garbage to one can per month. I signed up for the class hoping to learn some new “tricks” from Betty, but after participating, I’m finding the biggest benefit to attending the class was that it inspired me to take a deeper look at some of the issues, and reignited my motivation.

The class featured a video demonstrating how a landfill works. Like many people I suppose, I hadn’t given any thought to how a landfill works, and I had no idea that landfills are engineered to prevent their contents from decomposing. So those biodegradable dog poop bags I’ve been buying? They are, like everything else at the landfill, sealed off from water and air, lingering in perpetuity. Hmmm.

The class also called upon participants to do a waste audit of their household trash. My small family: two adults, a baby, a dog, a cat, and three chickens, has two problem areas revealed by the waste audit: packaging and poop. It seems that all snack foods, even the healthy or organic options, come in non-recyclable packaging. For instance, the items of convenience that make it easier to get through a busy day, like Lara Bars and Cheerios for the baby, are often in non-recyclable packaging. The poop problem is probably familiar to anyone with pets and babies. While we cloth diaper 90% of the time, disposable diapers are handy for traveling and at night. But they also generate a lot of trash! And the pets add to the problem between needing to maintain our good-neighbor status by picking up after our dog, and dealing with the litter box.

The Less is More class inspired me to do some additional research, and while an animal septic tank is out of the question here in Portland because of clay soil, it’s good to know that there are other options. I’ll also be skipping the biodegradable bags, because given where they are going to end up, it seems like a better option to reuse a plastic newspaper bag and at least give the bag a final use.

My “Less is More” wake up call has been the need to really consider my options and weight the benefits of convenience with the reality of waste disposal. While the garbage truck takes our trash “away”, it stays with us far too long (some things probably forever!) to justify taking the convenient route all of the time.  I don’t think we’ll approach the one can per year mark, but every little bit helps, so I’m keeping that in mind!

NWEI volunteer Betty Shelley dates a bag of garbage under her sink

NWEI volunteer Betty Shelley dates a bag of garbage under her sink

Last week Portland’s Oregonian newspaper shared the following story on NWEI volunteers Betty and Jon Shelley via OregonLive. Read on to learn more about how the Shelleys have managed to reduce their trash output to one can of garbage in 16 months! For the full story, click here.

Taking 16 months to fill one 35-gallon can with trash is the best the Shelleys have done so far in reducing their waste.

They wrote no blog chronicling a year of sudden, anti-garbage inspiration with panicked Styrofoam-meat-tray-crinkly-cereal-box-liner moments. Instead, their effort to cut back on waste started slowly more than 20 years ago with the question: Where is “away” when something is thrown away?

That led to habits Jon Shelley says now come as naturally as breathing, making their feat not much trouble at all. But how does someone else get to that point?

A recycling information specialist at Metro, Betty Shelley heard that question enough she decided to teach a three-part class on reducing waste. In “Less is more: Getting to one can of garbage a year,” she details her many habits and explains how, most importantly, she carefully considers what she brings home, asking, Where will it go when it’s used up, served its purpose or breaks? Because while recycling matters, reducing consumption reigns.

The Shelleys don’t have curbside service of any kind for trash, recycling or compost. She estimates they save $400 annually on garbage alone. Recycling goes to Far West Fibers. Vegetable peels get composted in the backyard. They eat meat as something other than a main course roughly three times a week, and what few bones exist (she usually buys skinless boneless chicken breasts) go in a bag in the freezer…So now, every six months a neighbor composts the bones in exchange for cookies.

Buying in bulk reduces waste

Buying in bulk reduces waste

In her tidy Southwest Portland kitchen, Betty Shelley has an organized system under the sink. A paper grocery bag marked 11/13/12, the most recent starting date, holds the garbage, which is neatly flattened and will eventually get packed tight as a brick. Another paper bag contains paper recycling. A smaller bag contains ferrous metal such as steel and iron. And another contains nonferrous metal such as aluminum.

No more paper towels
Because they buy staples such as rice, honey, syrup, quinoa, oats, corn meal and beans in bulk, they don’t have much packaging to recycle. The Shelleys’ first big change was to stop using disposable paper napkins, towels and plates. Betty tells those in her class they can use cloth napkins multiple times before washing them with other items so they don’t require a separate load.

“We gradually noticed our garbage was less and less and we found other options for things you would throw away,” she says. So they dropped to monthly garbage service. In 2006, they got it down to one can a year.

Not only did they curate what they took in, but they also found creative ways to purge: rubber bands from produce went to a nearby elementary school and candle ends to Scrap, a Portland environmental nonprofit…

The Shelleys continually assess how they can go greener. They reused the pipes from a rooftop solar water heating system as deck fencing. Slate stones unearthed from their backyard are now pathways around the house and cemented to the foundation as decorative trim…Her latest habit: She carries a takeout container in the car for leftovers.

And a favorite point is this: “People don’t realize they’re role models for others. They think someone big and important has to be a role model — a celebrity or intellectual.”

For the full article and tips for reducing waste, click here.

Some of you may remember Sarah Menzies, a former Outreach Team member here at NWEI. She has moved on to pursue her love of videography and continues to dedicate time and energy to environmental issues. Check out her recent video covering Bill McKibben’s Do The Math Tour in Portland.

Do the Math – Portland from Sarah Menzies on Vimeo.

With the election behind us, we here at NWEI are wondering what lies ahead in terms of the policies shaping or thwarting environmental protection. We found this article by Kieran Suckling, who shares five things the Obama Administration could focus on to move the United States forward. Read below for excerpts:

Few things distract our nation like the selection of its leader. But while we were obsessing over polls, swing states and Paul Ryan’s workout photos, the calculus that determines the future of life on Earth only got grimmer.

The climate crisis is deepening, rare plants and animals are vanishing at an accelerating clip, and politicians — well supported by the polluter class — are freshly emboldened to chip away at laws that protect our water, air, environment and wildlife…

Obama has a chance to salvage his legacy (and ours) in his second term. Here are the five places to start:

1. Address climate change and ocean acidification. There’s no crisis bigger than the one that’s rapidly transforming the world’s climate and oceans. We need to fix this, and fast. 2012 is on track to become the warmest year on record; some 40,000 temperature records have been shattered in the United States this year, while Arctic sea ice has melted to a record low…

2. Stem the extinction crisis. Plants and animals around the globe are going extinct at an astonishing rate, up to 10,000 times faster than normal in some cases. Unfortunately federal agencies in charge of saving endangered species have yet to respond on a scale that meets the speed and magnitude of this massive loss. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service need to work aggressively to protect the backlog of species that federal scientists say need protection denied to them so far…

3. Keep politics out of the Endangered Species Act and other vital environmental laws. If you’re glad that grizzly bears, wolves, bald eagles and peregrine falcons are still around, you can thank the Endangered Species Act. If you like breathing air and drinking water that won’t make you sick, you can thank the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. These laws have built an enviable record of success over the past four decades — but there’s a growing movement in Congress to cripple them…

4. Safeguard our public lands, wild places and the Arctic. There are nearly 650 million acres of federal land in the United States — places like national parks, wildlife refuges and national forests. In the face of urban sprawl, habitat loss, population growth and a consumption-driven economy, these publicly owned lands are crucial refugia for wild animals and plants and are a life-sustaining resource for clean water, air and biodiversity. They’re also a target for profit-driven companies that want to mine, graze, log, bulldoze and drill them into oblivion…

5. Embrace a newer, cleaner energy. Fossil fuels are a huge part of what’s gotten us into this mess in the first place, whether it’s pollution from coal that’s altering our planet’s climate or spilled oil that badly damaged the Gulf of Mexico. It’s time to end our addiction to an antiquated system saddling us with staggering problems and heartaches for years to come. We need to end the billions of dollars of federal subsidies to these polluting industries, call off dangerous schemes like the Keystone XL pipeline, admit that natural gas is not a safe or renewable resource and say out loud, again and again, that clean coal is an oxymoron.

It’s time to reinvent our energy future by focusing on renewable sources of energy, including solar, geothermal and wind. Yes, these come with complications, and we’ve got to be smart about how we make the shift, but it can and must be done. There’s a smarter, saner way to move ahead, and that path is open to us. All we need now is the courage and political will to step onto it.

For the full article, click here.

October 24th is Food Day, a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. If you haven’t already, consider learning more about sustainable food and taking action by organizing one of NWEI’s food focused discussion courses: Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability or Menu for the Future.

For more on the state of food in the United States, read Hilde Steffey’s Food Day Blog Post: This Food Day Remember Good Food Starts With Family Farms:

It is an exciting time when it comes to good food. Farmers and consumers are organizing locally and regionally, creating markets close to home via farm stands, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Farm to school programs are found in more than 12,000 schools, in every state in the nation. The U.S. organic food market continues to outpace conventional food sales. These are signs that there is a clear and growing demand for good food from family farms.

While these trends are promising, the largest, most industrial farms are getting bigger. By 2007, just 6 percent of US farms were producing 75 percent of agricultural product. Meanwhile, our small and mid-sized family farms continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Between 1982 and 2007, USDA numbers show a loss of 40% of farms making between $10,000 and $250,000 – an average of 353 farms a week! These are the very farmers and farms best positioned to grow and strengthen local and regional markets; but they’re also the same farms most threatened by failed policies that seek short-term gains and favor large corporations at the expense of public health, the environment, local economies and community well-being…

For the full post, click here.

We recently connected with Bonney Parker of Toms River, New Jersey per her past and present involvement with the Northwest Earth Institute discussion courses (she and her group are currently doing Discovering A Sense of Place).

Bonney told NWEI staffer Rob Nathan of how she and her sister have been presenting cooking workshops at a local organic farm three times a month (she has also written a cookbook based on this venture with her sister). Bonney says, “Some of our NWEI discussion group people are faithful attendees at the workshops, which have grown over the past two years from about 5 people to 30 people coming each time!” We asked Bonney if NWEI courses had influenced the process in any way (she and her group had done NWEI’s Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability course earlier this year). Here is what she said:

“Some of the attendees of the workshops became members of our discussion group, so NWEI has had an influence. Our thoughts and actions regarding the workshops and the subsequent cookbook have been influenced by what we have read.  For instance, we now ask folks who come to the workshops to bring their own eating utensils and cloth napkins with them.  I always have a supply of forks and spoons for those who forget, but that number is very small.  We usually ask the owner/farmer who is present at the workshops to talk about how he farms and what certain plants are and how they grow and are useful, etc, in addition to our nutritional information about the dishes we make.” 

Thanks Bonney for your continued involvement with NWEI, and for sharing this inspiring story with us – and for sharing an example of connecting to place and fostering sustainable food choices. Bonney notes that for the workshops her sister Maureen (pictured above at right) picks the seasonal produce with the farmer for that night’s workshop.

If you’d like to order the cookbook, or learn more about Bonney’s grassroots efforts, you can contact her at






Oregon Sea Grant has published a new book called Pathways to Resilience: Sustaining Salmon Ecosystems in a Changing World. It was written by salmon experts from around the Northwest and explores the radical approach of strengthening salmon resilience. It discusses salmon life histories and the social and economic impact salmon have on the people who depend on them for their livelihood. This book will be of interest to those who are active in fisheries as well as policymakers and anyone interested in the resilience of other ecological and social systems.

Jim Lichatowich, author of Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis, says, “The ideas in Pathways to Resilience are important guides in moving towards a different and sustainable relationship between salmon and humans…” Copies may be ordered online at

This week I had the chance to speak with long time NWEI volunteer and Metro’s Recycling Hotline Operator Betty Shelley about how she manages to produce just one can of trash a year. Indeed, the Shelleys found a way to gradually drop garbage collection service to one can a month, then to on-call service, followed by two cans annually and, finally, one can per year since 2004. How do they do it?

Betty credits the Northwest Earth Institute with teaching her that everything comes from the Earth. “NWEI gets credit for where we are in life with our awareness. It is harder to make changes without a support system,” she says of her and her husband Jon’s efforts to live more sustainably. Betty says the first thing to do is to look in your garbage can and see what is in it, then find one thing to change. “It builds from there. You do it slowly and surely over time. Focusing on one habit at a time is essential so as not to become overwhelmed. I see it not as a challenge that is overwhelming but more as an opportunity.”

She suggests being clever and examining purchases closely so as to avoid waste from the beginning. “I examine purchases in the first place. Do I really need it? Can I borrow it? We are always asking how we can avoid putting something in the garbage. It makes us more creative,” Betty says. She also says that “sharing is key, and borrowing from friends in moments of need.”

Betty offers the tips below for reducing waste (these are taken from Metro’s website, where you can learn more about both recycling as well as Betty’s efforts). Betty has also created a Facebook page entitled Reduce your Waste, where you can post questions and learn more. She also recommends the film The Clean Bin Project, a documentary about zero waste.

Some ideas to get you started:

  • Switch to cloth napkins
  • Eliminate paper and disposable single-use products
  • Compost yard debris and kitchen scraps
  • Take recyclable materials to drop-off sites if they aren’t accepted curbside
  • Avoid nonrecyclable items
  • Buy products in bulk, storing them in your own reusable containers brought to the store. This eliminates food waste by helping ensure you buy only what you need.
  • Share or exchange items with friends, family and neighbors to avoid unnecessary purchases.
  • Explore new uses for old items. When Betty and Jon took down their fence, they recut the wood, building a compost corral and a screen in the garden. The old pier posts from their deck were flipped over for use as pathway stepping stones.
  • Choose products and practices that support sustainability, focusing on quality over quantity, for example, and repairing rather than tossing.
  • Store noncompostable food waste – bones, grease and meat wrappers, for example – in the freezer until garbage pickup.
  • Set aside unwanted, still-good items for schools, shelters and other organizations that accept them.
  • Cook from scratch rather than buy packaged foods.
  • Buy from thrift stores.
  • Before buying an item, consider what you’ll do with it when you’re done.

For more inspiration, watch an interview with Betty on KATU. 

Help the environment, support NWEI and enter for a chance to win an iPad® from our partners at NW Natural when you enroll in their paperless billing program.

Between July 1 and Aug. 31, 2012, NW Natural customers can cast their vote for one of four local environmental nonprofit organizations to receive a portion of a $25,000 donation by enrolling in paperless billing.

The four nonprofit organizations are: Northwest Earth Institute, Oregon Wild, The Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Focus the Nation.

Here’s how it works:

  • Customers can vote for one of four nonprofit organizations to receive a portion of a $20,000 donation when they enroll in NW Natural’s paperless billing program by Aug. 31. Paperless billing helps save time and reduces bill clutter and paper waste.
  • Donations made to the nonprofit organizations will be based on the percentage of votes they receive from customers.
  • The nonprofit that gets the most votes will also receive a $5,000 bonus donation.
  • Customers can vote when they enroll at Currently enrolled customers are also eligible to vote.
  • NW Natural customers who participate in the program also have a chance to win one of three iPads®.

Cast your vote for NWEI when you sign up for NW Natural’s paperless billing today!

Thanks to Sarah Bills at Vestas for today’s blog post!

Last year, 12 employees from Vestas, the world’s leading manufacturer of wind turbines, participated in NWEI’s Sustainable Systems at Work discussion course. The group was so inspired by the program that they decided to apply the concepts discussed throughout the eight-week course to a project within their own company. After identifying several areas for possible action, they decided on one key project to reduce waste.

Each Vestas turbine tower section travels from the factory to the wind farm site by way of train, truck, boat, or any combination of the three. Blue tarps stamped with the Vestas logo cap each end of the tower sections to prevent dirt and debris from blowing into the tower section during transport.

Tower sections leaving the factory in Pueblo, Colo.

With two tarps per section, four sections per turbine, an average of 55 turbines per project and with more than 20 projects on the books for 2012, Vestas was looking at a lot of scrapped tarp. When the employees aimed to reduce the amount of landfill space taken up by these tarps, the “Blue Tarp Project” was born.

The first and most important step for the team was figuring out how to make the tarps reusable. The current design required the tarp to be cut to fit the tower section onto transportation equipment. Once at the wind farm site, the tarp was cut again to remove it. The team worked with the tarp supplier to create a design that allowed the tarp to be installed and removed without damage. Once removed from the towers, the tarps could be returned in supply containers already scheduled to return to the factory.

Vestas “blue tarp bags” upcycled from used tarp material.

Previous to the redesign, tarps might find their way to area farmers who would use them to cover hay bales or farm equipment. More often, the wind farm sites paid to have the tarps sent to the landfill. The project team rescued some of these tarps by sending them to local upcycler, LooptWorks, which created and manufactured “blue tarp bags” for each employee at the Vestas North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon.  Employees received a bag on their first workday in the new headquarters. (In fact, the new building itself is an upcycled item – a former Meier & Frank warehouse transformed into a beautiful office space designed to obtain LEED Platinum certification later this year.)

On top of the positive environmental impact, reusing the tarps will increase cost savings with each reuse — a win for Vestas, their clients, and the environment.

Our friends at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) recently released their annual review of higher education sustainability, revealing skyrocketing support for green jobs training; an increased focus on creating food-secure communities; new efforts toward accessibility and affordability; and more energy-related and green building efforts than ever before.

Since 2006, AASHE has produced an annual review of higher education sustainability efforts over the previous year. These publications are comprised of news stories and resources captured in the weekly AASHE Bulletin e-newsletter. The goal of the report is to serve as a standard reference for who is doing what to advance sustainability in higher education.

“AASHE is pleased to present this important publication to our members each year – and to the wider public through our e-book version. It is exciting to chart the rapid growth of the campus sustainability movement through stories and data collected in the Bulletin,” said AASHE’s Director of Resources and Publications, Judy Walton. “This year we were especially pleased to see the growth in accessibility and affordability efforts, as well as green jobs training and creating food secure communities. We hope our readers enjoy the stories, interviews, case studies, synopses and trends that we’ve collected in this issue.”

Specifically, an analysis of 2011 stories shows:

  • The number of Bulletin stories dealing with higher education access and affordability increased from three in 2009 and four in 2010 to 36 in 2011.
  • Nearly 60 percent of all new programs or training opportunities focused on training students for renewable energy and green careers, with $543 million recorded toward the effort.
  • 284 energy-related initiatives were announced (including 97 new or planned solar installations and 34 completed or planned campus energy overhauls). This represents a 28 percent increase from 2010.
  • Food security efforts on higher education campuses made up the largest percentage of the Bulletin’s “Public Engagement” (33 percent) and “Dining Services” (64 percent) categories. Together with “Funding” and “Grounds” categories, these four categories yielded 79 food security initiatives.
  • 2011 saw increased synergies between community colleges and their local communities to address access to an affordable college education that results in strong job prospects and low student debt.
  • With 191 environmentally friendly building stories, there were more green building efforts on campus reported in the AASHE Bulletin in 2011 than ever before.
  • Solar energy research projects were the most widely reported item in the Bulletin’s “Research” category, with nearly $1.8 million in total investment.

The final section of the review takes a look at “what’s next,” profiling innovative campus-community partnerships toward resilient, secure, sustainable communities.

An e-book version of the “2011 Higher Education Sustainability Review” will be available to AASHE members and non-members through Amazon Kindle this month.

It is that time of year again! Last year we encouraged the NWEI community to participate in the 350 Home & Garden Challenge, which saw over 1500 amazing actions registered in 226 cities and 37 states on a single weekend! This year it is called the ‘Transition Challenge’ and it encompasses the entire month of May. The focus is the same: during the month of May 2012, thousands of landscapes and homes will be transformed, retrofitted and revitalized as part of the Transition Challenge. Participants will grow food, conserve water, save energy and build community. It’s time for action, rooted in a shared vision and voice.

This month, thousands will take to the streets, the garden, schoolyard, home, apartment and city hall to take actions big and small. Please join!

For more information and to sign up, as well as for a host of ideas of how to get started: click here. You can choose actions related to growing food, saving water, conserving energy and building community.

Sierra Dall with Sustainable Cities Exchange is offering a free webinar on February 22, at 9:00 am Pacific time. The webinar is called “Improve Your Local Economy with a Sustainable Energy Plan,” and is aimed at helping municipalities create a sustainable energy plan. The webinar will also feature two case studies. You can find out more or register for the event at or call Sierra at 303.554.1833.

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